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Preview: USA begin U-20 World Cup quest vs. Spain

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For Tab Ramos’ youngsters, the road leading up to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey has been long and arduous.

But all that preparation stops today, as the US begin their World Cup dream against Spain in Istanbul.

After a lengthy warm up in the Toulon tournament in France, Ramos’ men have finally reached Turkey, despite the tournament being under scrutiny due to the large anti-government protests currently going on in Istanbul and other cities.

However the games will go ahead and the USA find themselves in the dreaded “Group of Death” with Spain, France and Ghana.

Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard all shone for the US U-20 side in tournaments like this in the past. Who will follow suit for the Nats?

Whoever excels, these youngsters must grow up fast if the US U-20’s are going to make it to the knockout stages. With just one win from four games in Toulon, the USA came up against France, Colombia, South Korea and Congo DR. The step up in class showed from the CONCACAF tournament back in March when they lost to Mexico in the final.

Toulon was just a warmup and plenty of players were used to try and make decisions on who made the final roster. So you can’t read into those results too much. But now with Ramos’ squad settled, he will be counting on all of them to play a part in Turkey.

What they’re saying

Head coach Tab Ramos: “We feel very good about our roster and the players we have selected, and we certainly feel like we have good talent here with us. The thing about Spain is they play the same way in all age group. We just saw the U-21 team win the European Championships [in a 4-2 victory over Italy], playing the same way as the first team. Our first team upset Spain four years ago, and there’s no reason we can’t do that same thing on Friday.”

Luis Gil:Every game we have to respect the other team and give it our all. But against Spain we have to give it that extra push and be strong as a team. I feel like we will get through it.”

Key men

Ramos has scoured the globe for the best talent available to him, with a pool of over 75 players scrutinized by the former US star and his coaching staff. His squad of 21 players are currently playing in MLS, England, Mexico and Germany. And it is the MLSers who are attracting plenty of interest as the tournament is set to kick off. 19-year-old Seattle Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin has received high praise from Ramos, with the youngster earmarked for a bright future. While Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil has also been a regular in MLS this season, with the attacker set to give the US their creative spark. And another MLS regular, Shane O’Neill of the Colorado Rapids, will anchor the defense after breaking into Colorado’s lineup this season. While Jose Villarreal has excelled for the LA Galaxy this year, scoring and creating goals with ease. He could be the jewel in the crown as the USA aim to win their first U-20 World Cup.

Schedule

USA vs. Spain, Friday June 21, (2 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. France, Monday June 24, (11am ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

USA vs. Ghana, Thursday June 27, (1 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision Deportes)

Predictions

The USA have a tough task ahead of them. Spain and France often produce the best young players in the world and their records at this level are pretty enviable. However, the majority of Ramos’ side have now been on the road together for a long time, over a month, as they prepare for the task ahead. Their is a unity and togetherness that could hold them in good stead. If Villarreal and Gil produce the attacking nous they’re known for, the US could pull off a shock and reach the latter stages. But, unfortunately, Group A really is the “Group of Death” and it would require a minor miracle for the USA to qualify. But who knows?

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.